PREVIEW: Michigan State gearing up for an opportunity to win first Big Ten conference championship

Print More

Emily Martin

When Adam Nightingale was announced as the head coach of Michigan State hockey, there were always high hopes. However, this was a team that would be rebuilding itself and its identity. Now, 22 months later, the recently announced Big Ten Coach of the Year and his squad prepare to face off in the Big Ten Championship against none other than the Michigan Wolverines.

“Our guys should be proud of earning people’s respect because that definitely wasn’t a given,” Nightingale said. “I think it’s important to step back and kind of really appreciate this opportunity that they’ve earned.”

Now, after a long season of breaking records and overcoming obstacles, they will play for the championship. This would be Michigan’s third consecutive Big Ten title and 4th overall, whereas it would be the Spartan’s first Big Ten title. This game marks the first time that Michigan State and Michigan will meet for a conference title since the CCHA championship game in 2002.

While pressure and intensity surround this championship matchup, the Spartans continue preaching their same goal, to take it one game at a time. The team knows that they have proved themselves and will see every team’s best effort. As the postseason continues, they can only focus on their game.

“That’s what this time of the year is about as you’re playing good teams no matter what,” Nightingale said. “It’s not like we’re just trying to turn on a switch and all of a sudden we’re going to try to play playoff hockey.”

It’s fairly safe to say that these two teams do not like each other, and that was even more evident when the Spartans and the Wolverines last met in East Lansing in January when the teams racked up 168 penalty minutes. The Wolverines won that game 7-2, but the Spartans dominated the series after that with three wins, including taking home the Iron D Trophy at the Duel in the D.

Emily Martin

“The first time we played them here our emotions kind of got the best of us,” sophomore forward and alternate captain Karsen Dorwart said. “Obviously that’s going to be in the back of your mind, but just playing your game is going to be a big focus for us.”

The Spartans recognize that although they hold a 3-1 margin in the season series vs the Wolverines, this game is a new season and anything can happen in playoff hockey. The team knows that keeping their emotions in check is crucial. However, the home-ice advantage could help boost the Spartans just like it did last weekend vs Ohio State, with even the coaching staff of Spartan alums noting that they had never seen the atmosphere in Munn quite like that.

“The atmosphere last week was nothing like we’ve ever seen,” sophomore defenseman and fellow alternate captain Matt Basgall said. “It’s something you really look forward to going into a game like that. Seeing the excitement from the fans and how they can contribute to us playing well is going to be a great opportunity.”

During the overall season series, the second veteran line of Reed Lebster, Nico Müller, and Jeremy Davidson have been the top producers against the Wolverines with a combined 10 points, and the fourth line of Tommi Männistö, Tiernan Shoudy, and Tanner Kelly just behind them with nine. Both these lines performed exceptionally well against Michigan and will be looking to produce more points for their team.

On the other hand, the Wolverines have an arsenal of offensive weapons, including Big Ten Player of the Year sophomore forward Gavin Brindley, whose 51 points are tied for first on the team and conference with linemate, sophomore forward Rutger McGroaty. Sophomore defenseman Seamus Casey sits behind them with 44 points and junior forward Dylan Duke with 42. These two teams are the highest-scoring teams in the conference, with Michigan averaging 4.22 goals per game and Michigan State averaging 3.86 goals per game. The high stakes of this game echo through the locker room, but the Spartans have been in high-pressure situations on the road at Wisconsin and Little Caesars Arena and walked away with the trophy, so they will look to do it again.

“I think discipline’s really important,” Nightingale said. “We want to play the game physically, but you have to respect your opponent’s talent and ability to score.”

The teams will face off for this championship matchup on Saturday, Mar. 23 at 8:00 p.m. at Munn Ice Arena.

Comments are closed.